28 May 2010

Things I plan on doing that are "bad" for me. A Messy Poll!

(Photograph copyright 2010, all rights reserved.)

I keep hearing about all of the things in life that are going to kill us, and I'm really starting to wonder just how seriously to take them. Of course, whenever I say things like this, someone gets all indignant and tells me how horrible I am that I would do such things and how dare I even consider it....

So to hell with the lot. One day "sugar is poison", the next it's not. Coffee used to be "poison", but it turns out it's fine, too. Margarine instead of butter was Gospel for twenty years or so...until someone found out about polyunsaturated fats, trans-fats and all of the other nasties that margarine contains that will kill you. I'm bitter about that last one, by the way. I have always like butter better, and I was deprived for far too long.

What am I going to do then?

1. I'm going to eat the good stuff. That means things like pork belly, foie gras, lamb - all of the meat products. Whole eggs. Butter. I'm going to cook with it, bake with it and put it on my toast, just like I do now, for the rest of my life.

Dessert. I'm going to eat desserts. In all their sugary glory. That's what gyms are for, right?

2. I will NEVER eat things that health enthusiasts tell me I "have" to eat. There will never be soy or foodlike soy products in my house. NEVER. Weird, uncookable grains? No thanks. Brown rice? Yuck, tastes like dirt. Even yogurt. I never particularly liked the stuff. It tastes like milk gone bad...oh wait! It IS milk gone bad!

3. I'm never going to stop drinking. Wine is good. Red wine is better. There's nothing like a lovely bourbon to bring smiles (I recommend "Noah's Mill) to my life. Good Scotch. The next time someone accuses me of "alcoholism" because I had two glasses of wine with dinner, I might just smack them.

4. I quit smoking in my late 30s after smoking for 20 years. I did it only for the sake of my health, NOT because I didn't like it. When I hit my late 70s/early 80s, I'm going to take up smoking again. I LIKE smoking. Nonsmokers will never understand this. I'm all right with that.

I'm an addict, I admit it. A full decade after quitting, the cravings are still there. There are many times when I'd like to mug that teenager for his/her cigarettes, sneak into the alley and smoke'em all. The funny part of this is that whenever I say this to former smokers, they either remain silent (because they agree) or they loudly proclaim that they would NEVER..... But they never say they don't want to do just that.

5. I'm not giving up the sun. I can't do it. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a fan of lying around on beaches or lounge chairs, but I'm damned if I'm giving up the sun on my face and the Vitamin D I get from it. Screw supplements, I want the real thing. If you live in a place that has winter for more than six months out of the year, you understand me.

Let me go further. Sunscreen sucks ass. It makes me itch. It makes my skin do weird things. It smells funny. I'm allergic to some of them.

Yes, I'm a fair-skinned person with a few (not many) freckles and red hair. I don't really tan, and what I consider to be a tan (on me), most people snicker at. I'm not just fair, I'm fishbelly white. But I LIKE my freckles. I already have a wrinkle or two, but I'm going to be 47 this year. I've earned them.


Naturally, I don't plan on paying any attention to people who seem determined to suck all the fun out of life and preach at me to obey them in all things. I find the older I get, the less likely I am even to be polite to these folks. They're pretty obnoxious and the kind of nosiness they display is something I find really irritating.

I guess I really AM on the road to curmudgeonhood. Hmm. I'm ok with it, too.

So here's the poll:

What "bad" things are YOU not giving up?

24 May 2010

In praise of real people.

(Photograph copyright 2010, all rights reserved.)

We love to hate the people that provide the services we need. Over the years, it seems like every single time I have to deal with, say....cable that doesn't work properly, dodgy electricity, insane phone bills that make no sense... no. A comprehensive list would only serve to piss me off again, and I'm actually in a pretty good mood, all things considered.

Here's one of my main peeves. Have you ever noticed companies like the cable company or your cell phone provider has a sweetheart of a promotional deal for new subscribers about four times a year? This irritates the hell out of me. After all, here I am, a loyal customer for ten years or so, and I GET NO BREAKS.

Sign up for the new texting plan.... get unlimited free texting for six months! WTF? How about cable television? Sure, they advertise the premium movie channels for a ridiculously cheap price for NEW SUBSCRIBERS only and we longstanding customers get hosed, right? Sigh. We have to pay full price and beyond for the service that others are getting for free, and there's nothing we can do about it!

Or is there?

For years, these companies have been shunting customers off onto web sites in an effort to cut down on the number of humans they have to pay and provide with benefits. For the most part, I have no trouble with this. As someone who has moved a lot, it's convenient as hell to just go online to cancel service and reinstate it somewhere else. I like it.

But there are always questions that just can't be answered by the machines. You have to PHONE for help. This is where I go bananas. In the past, I would sit on hold (I know you've all done this, bear with me), push buttons for half an hour, finally get a call center person who couldn't do anything that wasn't already online, and would therefore transfer your call and hang up on you without getting through to another person. Start over. Repeat as necessary. The whole process (IF you got help) would take hours, suck up half the day and leave me limp and exhausted, fit only for a stiff drink and a long nap.

Still - what choice did I have? It's not like you can just refuse to pay your bill until the problem is fixed, right?

I think things are changing, though. Clearly I'm not the only one that has problems with this nonsense. I've complained all over the place, and it seems that so have a whole LOT of other people. So much so that I've been pleasantly surprised not once, but TWICE in the last month.

Ready? I'm still reeling. This was too easy!

1. About two weeks ago, I got my cell phone bill and it was insane. Never mind how insane. Just nucking futz. It was bad. I figured there HAD to be a better way, so I bit the bullet and called AT&T.

A nice young lad answered the phone. I told him about the insanity of my bill, he called it up and said, "Wait a minute (clickety click)..... do you NEED two thousand free texts every month?"

"Heck no!" I responded, "How did THAT get there? I don't use more than a hundred or so a month and it's not listed on the bill!"

"Hang on (silence, followed by clickety click) I can reduce your bill by thirty bucks a month just by cutting your texting limit in half.... (silence, followed by MORE clickety click)...Ok. Wait a minute. Ok..... Wow.... (silence) hang on here... You're paying WAY too much for roaming! Let me just...."

Now at the time, all I did was make affirmative noises and hope he was getting this right. I figured he was on a roll. I was right. By the end of the call, he had cut my bill by just over fifty bucks by changing the texting thing (I have 7 gazillion unused minutes, by the way, and he let me keep them), and giving me a discount that I should have been getting all along for roaming. I was shocked....

"Ma'am, could you hold for just a minute, please? I have to talk to a supervisor about something."

I agreed, and about three or four minutes later, he came back on the line.

"Thank you for holding. Here's what I did. You get your discounts, and we are back-dating them for six months because of the error with the roaming charges. Your next bill will be around ten dollars, and the discounts will all be applied for the one after that."

I thanked him, he gave me the stock canned answer (Is there any other way we can provide you with excellent service today?) We hung up. I was in shock. It had to be a freak thing, right? I mean, no one gets a deal from the phone company!

2. A few months ago, The Boy suggested that I cut HBO. We don't watch a lot of television, and most of it is time-shifted anyway because he's away all week. We watch whatever we watch on weekends and there's only so much time available. I did it. I must have been nuts. I missed the entire season of TWO of my favorite shows. So today, I just thought screw it. I'm reinstating HBO.

Now, there was no easy way to do that on the web site. I puttered around on it for twenty minutes or so, then gritted my teeth and called them. I did the menu thing. I groaned when I realized that I started this whole sleigh ride just before I meant to have lunch and would probably be starving to death by the time I finally finished. I sighed.

But...but.... There was NO HOLD TIME. You heard right! Comcast - the former call center from hell had someone answer the phone right away! The cynic in my was convinced that it would just be someone who would redirect my call.....but no. No, she didn't!

She reinstated HBO for me, then told me to hang on. When she came back, she said, "Aunt Messy? I just checked to see if you were eligible for any discounts, and I see that we can offer you HBO for ten dollars a month for the next six months."

She asked me to hold again and came back in a minute or so.

"Ma'am? I asked my supervisor if there was anything else I could do for you and she has authorized me to give you the promotional rate on your Internet service for six months as well. Sorry I couldn't find anything else."

Again, there I was, shocked at how easy this was. My cable bill has dropped by $45.00 for the next six months!


Is there a moral here? Yes. As much as these companies hope and dream that all of their customers will just do business online, it's not going to happen. Seriously - I have Comcast internet, so just how am I supposed to deal with a problem if it craps out? Exactly. They will ALL need to have people available to actually talk to customers.

Now note that not a single discount that I got was available online. How's that for a kicker? By spending about an hour on the phone, I cut about $90.00 per month off my bills for the next six months! There is no down side here. Sure, the bills will go up at the end of that period, but who cares? It's not like they're going to ask for my savings back, is it?

After the six months has passed, I'm calling them back. If the only way I can qualify for loyalty programs and discounts is to be nice to a call center kid twice a year I am all over that. It costs me nothing to do that at all. In fact, I suggest that all of you try the very same thing. You have nothing to lose, right?

14 May 2010

Questions...Always Questions....

(Photographs copyright 2010, all rights reserved.)

For anyone that's interested in the pictures....

These were taken on a recent trip to Portland OR. We had one sunny day, and that's the one we decided to spend at Washington Park, which is huge and gorgeous. Sadly, we were early for the roses, even though it was the first week in May. Spring there was so cold and wet that everything slowed down.

The pictures were taken at the Japanese Garden. That azalea is actually two plants. Over the years they've been pruned into a perfect ten foot diameter circle. The second is a Japanese Maple and it looks overexposed because it is. I was standing inside the canopy looking up when I took the picture. I was more interested in the structure of the tree than the leaves.


Some of this is prompted by the fact that The Boy and I have applied for citizenship. Our forms are in, and we got fingerprinted by Homeland Security a couple of weeks ago. If things go at their normal pace, we will probably be sworn in by the end of September/beginning of October, in time for the November elections. We'll see.

A couple of weeks ago, I got a very official looking envelope in the mail, addressed to me by name, that looked a lot like the Census form. Now, I sent that in as soon as I got it - it was in the mail the very next day. This envelope looked about the same, so I opened it, figuring that it was either a duplicate (strange but I imagine it happens), or I'd screwed something up so they were asking me to re-do.

I opened it, and there was an official-looking letter inside with a huge black heading that said "2010 Congressional District Census". In very tiny little black print underneath that it said "Commissioned by the Republican Party". Now it was addressed to me by name and signed (by machine) by a Michael Steele, who I've never heard of. I'm sure he's a nice man, even if he IS a Republitard.

The cover letter was filled with loaded language that interspersed the usual paranoid idiocy with things like:

" Barack Obama was barely in the White House a month when he dropped all pretense of "hope" and "change" and laid bare his real agenda of massive tax increases, government-run health care, amnesty for illegal aliens (it's ok, The Boy and I are legal), and bigger, more intrusive government."

You get the gist. It's a three page letter, demanding that this "census" be returned by 28 May and also begging for money. We've seen it all before. Still....when I looked at the survey it was STILL iffy as far as I was concerned.

The form LOOKS like the real Census form. There's a blurb at the top about being selected for the survey and so on, and in small print with a white line through it that was meant to look like a copier malfunction and so virtually unreadable; "This is not a U.S. Government document."
Neat, hey? Oddly, this "malfunction" is present ONLY on that small line of text.

The rest of the printing job is beautifully done with not one error as far as I can see. It has all sorts of numbers on it, a tracking code, due date etc. I know that this is an old advertising/marketing trick. No one reads the text of the letter, right? Most people just toss that out. No one really pays attention to the exact wording at the top of the survey, either. They just fill in the boxes. It's even postage paid.

There are 21 questions, and they read like the typical paranoid Republican bullshit we've been hearing since the last election was called.

"5. Do you think the record trillion dollar federal deficit the Democrats are creating with their out-of-control spending is going to have disastrous consequences for or nation?" (Like the Shrub didn't start that whole sleigh ride.)

"9. Are you concerned that as other countries like China buy up hundreds of billions of dollars of our national debt they will have more control in directing our nation's future economic policies?" (Hmmm. A new take on the Yellow Peril bullshit that was around a hundred years ago?)

I found these questions hilarious, but that's just me. No, they really ARE hilarious. So there. The funniest part of the whole thing, though is Page 4 of the "census". It's a donation form that is designed to take credit cards. Gotta love political parties! The whole thing seems like a lot of work to ask for money, don't you think?

It's also funny that this is coming to me. Not only am I not registered to vote, I CAN'T do that. I'm not a citizen!


However, this got me thinking, and I have questions about politics here. I'm Canadian, so give me a tiny break here before mocking me.

1. Do you have to declare a party before you go into a polling booth?

2. When you register to vote, is that done by a civil servant or do you have to register with party officials? If it IS a civil servant, do you have to tell THAT person what party you're affiliated with?

3. Why do party officials count the ballots? Isn't that begging for trouble, or at least corrupt counting practices? Shouldn't the people counting be neutral? In Canada, that means civil servants.

I am genuinely confused by this. I've voted in a lot of elections in Canada, and we were always taught that the secret ballot is sacred - that no one has a right to ask how you're going to vote. Ever never. It's not just that no one answers the question, no one asks because it's considered so rude.

Also, Elections Canada used to (I don't know if they still do) count damaged and defaced ballots. Defacing a ballot- usually by drawing a big black X through it) is considered a legitimate form of protest. Essentially, if you deface your ballot, you're making it clear that all of the candidates are idiots so it doesn't matter who gets in.

There are no exit polls in Canadian elections - again with the secret ballot. All campaigning has to stop before the vote and the bars are closed. Apparently a favorite tactic among the politicians of yore was to park a wagon full of kegs of beer outside polling stations.

So anyway, what gives? I was raised believing that it's nobody's damned business how I vote or for who.

That's right - you got it. Messy asks for help AGAIN.

03 May 2010

I love a good vacation!

(Photographs copyright 2010, all rights reserved.)

I'm back! Despair not, for there will be SHADDAPS! all over the place in the next couple of weeks.

We went West this year.....ok, we usually go west, but this time we went to a city that I have never been before, namely Portland, Oregon.

Now, I'm the first to admit that I just like all things West. Westerners are more laid back. They're in less of a hurry. They don't seem to rush to judgment like people from other parts of the country. I should say continent, because Western Canadians are pretty much the same. In short, they just see fun in life a little quicker than most.

Portland is a gorgeous city. I have to sift through my photos and I'll post them for you later if you're interested - if not, tell me and I'll post them anyway. What the heck, It's my blog, right? The gardens are stunning. Washington Park is a wonderful resource for the city, a beautiful retreat for urbanites who need some green and downtime. We walked, we ate (Park Kitchen, Gruner, 23 Hoyt - all fabulous) we took some pictures, it was lovely.

There are craft breweries. Lots and lots of them. One young man told me that Portland is called "Beervana", and I can see why. The creativity of the brewers there is legendary. You cannot go wrong in a pub there - it's all good.

Our main goal was not the city of Portland, though. Always remember that we are Wine People, and that Oregon is the home of Pinot Noir. It was wineries we were after, and The Boy was determined to go to the people who produce some utterly spectacular wine and buy "from the farm gate" as it were.

See, many of the producers that we like are very small. They often make less than a thousand cases of wine in a season. Because of this, distributors aren't interested in dealing with them. The small producers have limited access to the markets and a lot of them aren't even interested in selling all over the place. Their entire production goes to certain restaurants and people who belong to their wine clubs as well as locals. You have to go to the winery to buy from them and everyone's good with that. (Westerners, remember?)

Doing this takes a little research. The last time we were in that area, about 15 or so years ago, there were maybe 20 wineries in the area. Now, there are over 100. Many of them have tasting rooms that are open to the public. Some of them are by appointment only. Research is in order, and phoning ahead is crucial. We went early in the year. A few of the tasting rooms were not to open until the beginning of May.

But going early was a good thing. See, there are a lot of people who do what we did. A LOT. During the summer, the Willamette (say it like Dammit) area is lousy with tourists, all tasting wine with some buying and some not. It's been a major economic boost to the area. Going early in the season, though, meant that the winemakers were free to talk, and they're happy to do it. These folks are passionate about what they do, and it shows.

Now the other thing you need is a place to stay, and there are a whole lot of B & Bs around. We lucked out and went here . Bruce and Susan were brilliant hosts. They went out of their way for us and made dinner reservations, appointments with some of the wineries we wanted to go to and Bruce's breakfasts are out of this world delicious. In fact, his scones are currency in some of the wineries. At Archery Ridge, when we mentioned where we were staying, the man behind the counter popped out with, "Got scones?"

It was a blast. Like I said, it was early in the year, and it's been a cool spring, but the weather just didn't matter. The people were terrific, and Bruce and Susan were so wonderful we're going back there again....maybe in the fall?

A couple of tips. Take a rain jacket. Don't bother with the fancy clothing or shoes. You will literally be walking in farmyards. Don't forget your GPS. Seriously - take your GPS. It saved our marriage....no looking at maps necessary equals a happy couple. Trust me on this one. The roads meander and the addresses and the maps don't coincide all the time.